Monday, April 18, 2016

The Best of the Worst

My child may be the worst player on the team and I could not be more proud.  Many parents start their children in team sports at an early age and they continue playing sports throughout their school years.  Often times they do multiple sports so their schedules are filled year round with practices, games, tryouts, tournaments and jamborees.  We were not that family. It wasn't until about 4 years ago when my daughter was in middle school that she expressed an interest in joining a lacrosse team. She had never played the sport before but was anxious to learn.

We bought her a stick and all of the gear and she joined her teammates on the field - many of whom have played since grade school.  Eager to learn, she practiced her throwing and catching.  She was so excited to be a part of the team she could hardly stand it. I could feel her pride when she put on her uniform and joined her team on the field.  She loved everything about being on this team.  She loved the girls she played with, she loved the practices, she loved the chants before and after the games, she loved cheering on her teammates and hearing them cheer for her.  She felt she had found her "tribe".  This wasn't the clique of girls in school that she desperately wanted to be friends with, these were her teammates and they supported each other.

As she began to play the game, I could tell it didn't come naturally to her.  She's not the fastest runner, she struggled with catching the ball and she always seemed to be off target when throwing.  She recognized her weaknesses and would go to the school behind our house during off-times to practice throwing and catching using a wall at the school.  She would run around the track until dark and walk home through the woods using the flashlight on her phone.  She was committed to improving and I admired her desire to better herself.  Unfortunately, despite all her efforts to improve, she never seemed to reach the same level as her teammates.

As a parent, it was difficult to watch her play the first few years.  I knew how desperately she wanted to play well.  The first season came and went and I remember her getting in the car after her last game and breaking down in tears.  She had really hoped to score at least ONE goal throughout the year, but unfortunately she did not. I did my best to reassure her that she played very well and I could tell a noticeable improvement since the beginning of the season.  There was nothing I could say that would make her feel better and that broke my heart.

The second year again, no goal scored during the season.  Finally at an end of the season jamboree, she scored a goal!! I was so excited for her it brought me to tears.  Other parents may see the goal and think it's no big deal, but to us - this is HUGE!  4 years and just 3 goals later, we still support her dreams.  Every game, rain, hail, sun, wind - we are there.

We watch her sit on the bench, cheering her teammates.  We watch her wave her stick - alone and unguarded hoping her teammates throw her the ball.  We watch her get passed up time and time again. We watch her high-5 her teammates when they score a goal.  We watch her apologize to an opposing player when she accidentally trips them.  We watch her shoo a fly off the hair of the girl she is supposed to be guarding.  We watch her compare socks and cleats with the opposing teammate.  What she lacks in killer instinct, she makes up for in heart.  The missing chip for her is that angry desire to win.

I hear other parents behind me talking about how their daughter is "a bit of a ball hog and should not be scoring so many goals."  Or I hear people refer to some of the girls as "wheels" since they run so fast.  That will most likely never be my daughter.  They will never understand why I get so emotional when she catches the ball that someone finally throws to her. It can be like playing hot-potato when she finally does get the ball - she gets so stressed out she can't get rid of it fast enough.

Just the other day it came down to a duel between my daughter and an opponent.  It was a ground ball and they were both fighting for it. My girl won! She scooped the ball up, ran and threw it to a teammate who proceeded to run down the field and score a goal.  I watched my daughter's face as she filled with pride knowing she had helped score a goal.  I could hear some of her teammates say "Good job Hannah!" from the sidelines and Hannah was absolutely giddy with happiness and pride.  Tears started to fill my eyes as I saw the coach high-5 her on her way off the field.  She could barely contain herself she was smiling so big. I could feel her joy all the way into the stands.  She loves this game.  She loves her team.  She may not be the best player - and may very well be the worst as far as skill is concerned, but she has the biggest heart.

To all of the parents of the worst player on the team, this is for you. This is for all those little successes that you celebrate quietly.  This is for all of the "I'm proud of you" moments as your child leaves the field not scoring a single goal.  This is for all of those tender hearts who lack the killer instinct to play to win. This is for all of those games you attend HOPING for some small success.  This is for signing up for another year, optimistic that it will be even better than the last.  Cheers to you and your athlete.  I share your joy.

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